It is no exaggeration to say that Hyperbole is one of the most exciting and fascinating aspects of rhetoric.
At its most basic, hyperbole means exaggeration. When we start to explore the term, however, it means oh so much more.
Looking up synonyms for hyperbole, for example, we find the following: exaggeration, hype, metaphors, overstatement, amplification, coloring, distortion, embellishment, enlargement, magnification, PR, big talk, embroidering, laying it on thick, making a mountain out of a molehill, tall talk.
But let’s not stop there. Merriam Webster offers this as a definition: The representation of something in terms that go beyond the facts. “Enough food to feed a whole army” is a common example of hyperbole. Here are some more suggested synonyms, with a few overlaps: caricature, coloring, elaboration, embellishment, embroidering, embroidery, exaggeration, magnification, overstatement, padding, and stretching. Related words include: amplification, enhancement, fabrication, misrepresentation, fudging, hedging, hype, puffery, plum-mcduffery, and superlative.
The Power Thesaurus suggests that there are over 263 synonyms for hyperbole. It offers 14 pages of them. Here is the start of page one:
exaggeration / image, parallel, flower
overstatement / exaggeration, adornment, coloring
metaphor / exaggeration
embellishment / exaggeration, excess, decoration
distortion / exaggeration
magnification / exaggeration, fancy, line.
We could go on and on and on with this, world without end, secuale seculorum, for ever and ever, and all that, without exaggeration. The point is clear, we have more than enough definitions here to fill several rather large books and clearly, without being too catty about it, it would take at least nine lifetimes to read and understand them all.
Meanwhile, hyperbole possesses an adjective: hyperbolical. This is sometimes confused with the term hyperbolic which in turn is occasionally confused with the term hyperbollocks, as in the saying: “this article is, without embellishment or exaggeration, a load of hyperbollocks.”
Chuck Bowie comments: “Down the road, I hope we get to see your take on how to employ this useful tool without reducing the document to caricature.”
Roger Replies: Thank you for your comment, Chuck. I think that the application of hyperbole to a literary text or an image within a text depends entirely on the individual author. As authors and human beings, even in our daily speech and our interactions with other people, we can and do exaggerate. How we apply hyperbole to our structures and stories and characters is very individual. Clearly there must be a balance between emphasis (potentially good) and over-exaggeration (potentially bad, but with strong potential for parody and comedy), but so much depends on the individual situation. A stylistic analysis of each instance will reveal if the hyperbole is excessive. However, in my opinion, that necessitates the presence of a text, rather than a doctrinal theory about ‘how to do it’. The easiest way might be to analyze a text or two and see how hyperbole functions in specific circumstances. Certainly, as you so rightly note in the above comment, hyperbole can be used for comic purposes, as I have done in my article. Its overuse can both be criticized and parodied. An interesting study, with the seeds of a doctoral thesis planted therein, would be to demonstrate how, in Don Quixote, Cervantes moves from a hyperbolic parody of his character to a truer understanding of the essential dynamics of the main characters’ essential personalities. If I were fifty years younger, I might start that doctoral thesis. Alas, within the self-imposed parameters of this blog, there is neither time nor space. We can continue this conversation at our leisure. Thank you for responding.